The “contact hypothesis”: Critical reflections and future directions
McKeown S., Dixon J.
Research on intergroup contact has grown exponentially over the past decade. Such research has typically extolled the benefits of positive interaction between members of historically divided communities, particularly on outcomes related to prejudice reduction. Emerging work in the field, however, has qualified this optimistic picture by identifying three gaps in the existing literature. First, in everyday life, contact may be construed as a negative experience that increases rather than decreases responses such as prejudice, anxiety, and avoidance. Second, in real-life settings, contact is often circumscribed by informal practices of (re)segregation that are easily overlooked if researchers rely primarily on examining structured contact and explicit processes using primarily laboratory and questionnaire methods. Third, positive contact may have “ironic” effects on the political attitudes and behaviors of the historically disadvantaged, undermining their recognition of social injustice and decreasing their willingness to engage in collective action to challenge the status quo. Although it is now a truism that intergroup contact can reduce intergroup prejudice, these developments emphasize the importance of maintaining a critical perspective on the “contact hypothesis” as a model for promoting social change in historically divided and unequal societies. They also lay the foundations for future developments in the field.